Eating and drinking can be quite exhausting. Although I have no complaints, and am having the time of my life, our days during this exchange begin at 6:00 am and I am usually not asleep until just before midnight. Even for a workaholic like me, this can prove tiring.
Our coordinator in Kurikoma, Hiroshi Sasaki, had led several exchange groups to other countries and knows the routine. He won us over immediately when he stated, “the theme for the next two days is relaxation." He hates meetings and when he took teams overseas he bemoaned the lack of free time. He brought our team to the Kurikoma onsen resort near Mt. Kurikoma, where we luxuriated in the natural hot springs, heated pool, and really awesome massage chairs.
The first evening we watched a dance theater performance by a family troupe that travels from spa to spa. Hiroshi interpreted some of the songs for me, and also told me a little about the family—all the performers were male (which did not diminish their believability as geishas), and the younger boy had just recovered from brain surgery for cancer. The lively, colorful dances blended traditional with modern, and added a comedic flair.
For our farewell party, Hiroshi secured McDonalds cheeseburgers, KFC, and tons of sushi and sashimi—surely the oddest menu I’ve ever experienced in my life. Also in attendance were four English teachers from the JET program. Mark hailed from Northern Ireland and had the accent, red hair, and teasing manner to prove it. Michael, from North Carolina, had been in the Peace Corps and was thinking about graduate school. Michelle came to Japan from Guatemala; we both share a devotion to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Aaron, from Oregon, played the guitar and we dueted to U2’s “Running to Stand Still.”
Later, I stayed up talking with one of the rotary members, an affable young man who drove a Chevy because he likes its “wildness”; he had lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The evening also marked the occasion of my reaching my sake limit, which of course had unwelcome consequences.